Finding Synergy in Bangkok
  • Monday, August 20, 2012

By George Sumner and Stephen Andrews

There is nothing like a Global South conference to challenge Minority World assumptions about the Majority World. Such a conference met July 16-21 in Bangkok on the theme “Be Transformed by the Renewing of the Mind to Obedience of Faith for Holistic Mission in a Radically Changing Global Landscape.” The post-colonial reality of the church in Africa, Asia, the Pacific, and South America is indeed mind-transforming. Anyone who thinks that the non-Western church is lacking in intellectual rigour, strategic planning, ethical debate, or spiritual substance should take a peek in the Global South mirror. It will alter their definition of impoverishment. We who have repented of our colonial ways may just discover that we have simply exchanged one colonial outfit for another of a smaller size.

The term missionary was once one of lionization. In the latter 20th century a period of vilification ensued. But newer African church historians, led by figures like Lamin Sanneh and including such Anglicans as John Karanja from Kenya, Cyril Okorocha from Nigeria, and Mwita Akiri of Tanzania, observe that both attitudes keep the Westerner at the centre of attention. In fact, the central human actors in the coming of faith to Africa were the African evangelist and catechist. They had to make the key, on-the-ground decisions.

Something similar is afoot today, more than a century and a half later, as we look at global Anglican leadership. It would be easy to fit an Anglican Global South event onto the grid of agreement or conflict with the West over contemporary contentious issues. And to be sure, a vast preponderance of those present at the conference agreed that Western consumerist ideologies and the recent actions of the Episcopal Church were harmful to the cause of the Gospel. An Asian bishop said: “It is often claimed in the West that ‘what we do does not affect Hong Kong.’ Never say that! It does affect us! Liberal theological teaching is widely reported in the East, and it makes our job much more difficult.”

And yet the bishop’s comments were part of a casual lunchtime discussion. Frankly, this meeting was not about the West’s agenda, in support or dissent. Leadership on discerning the issues of greatest import has passed to the South as well, and they seemed intent on getting on with business. Foremost was concern about the rising challenge of Islam. A number of the delegates come from countries dealing with militant or resurgent Islam. There was a desire for education, conversation, and amity, while remaining realistic about the situation on the ground. Obviously the problem of conducting one’s ministry under conditions of poverty was discussed — where might one find resources? And how can evangelism proceed in their absence? Participants openly discussed the problem of dependency, but a growing sense of stewardship and self-sufficiency was evident in the announcement that the conference was entirely funded from the Global South. Before too long, churches in North America may need to look to the Global South for lessons here.

It would be a mistake to draw the conclusion from what we have said that Global South leaders imagine going their own way without concern for the whole Church. There is an openness to partnerships where opportunities arise and where the lead remains with the South. Professor Hwa Yung, Bishop of the Methodist Church in Malaysia and Chair of the Council for the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies, said: “The key question is: How can the vast material, theological and human resources, found especially in the North on the one hand, and the spiritual vitality and dynamism, found abundantly especially in the South on the other, be fused together into a powerful synergistic whole?” The final communiqué from the conference affirms that “The nature of the global Anglican Church affords us an opportunity to serve, work and learn together.” This vision of a global Anglican church gave us hope for efforts designed to protect and enhance the Communion. There was a surprising degree of affinity to the Covenant, in spite of its setbacks, as well as a perception that leadership here too may be moving to the South. Most importantly, there was a palpable sense of the reality of communion, of the catholicity of the Church not as a theory but as a lived fact. All we who gathered simply were connected as limbs of one Body. Being global Anglicans is of prime importance to those gathered in Bangkok. It was hard not to be moved by the remarkable fact of being in communion with leaders from so many places, with so many remarkable paths to this place. One had a ready sense of how precious this was, as an integral part of our faith in “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.” Such a profession is neither addendum nor adiaphoron.

The Rev. Canon George Sumner is the principal and Helliwell Professor of World Mission at Wycliffe College, Toronto. The Rt. Rev. Stephen Andrews is Bishop of Algoma in Canada and a member of the Living Church Foundation.

 

Mission in the Majority World

By Daniel H. Martins

Soon after General Convention adjourned July 13, I traveled for 36 hours to Bangkok, Thailand, for the Global South Conference on the Decade of Mission and Networking. By my informal count, 92 people attended, mostly bishops and priests; and 24 of the 38 provinces of the Anglican Communion were represented, 12 by their primates. I and my three colleagues — Bishop Michael Smith of North Dakota, the Very Rev. Anthony Clark of Orlando, Florida, and the Rev. Charles Alley of Richmond, Virginia — attended as invited representatives of Communion Partners. Other guests represented the Anglican Church of Canada, the Anglican Church in North America, the Anglican Church in Australia, and the Church of England. Most of the world’s Anglicans were represented in microcosm in Bangkok.

In his opening keynote address and in his homily, the Most Rev. John Chew, recently retired Archbishop of Singapore and Primate of Southeast Asia, grounded the challenge of 21stcentury mission in St. Paul’s epistle to the Romans, particularly Chapter 12, which contains the inspiration for the conference theme: “Be transformed by the renewing of the mind to obedience of faith for holistic missions in a radically changing global landscape.” He provided a fine example of the classic evangelical Anglican genre of Bible preaching that is part homiletical and part catechetical, always firmly rooted in the text, and invariably longer than we are accustomed to hearing at a Sunday Eucharist.

Archbishop Chew pointed out that 2012 has been a year of great ferment in the world and in the church: continued unfolding of the Arab Spring, the European Union debt crisis, the pending appointment of a new Archbishop of Canterbury, a difficult General Synod in the Church of England, and a difficult General Convention in the Episcopal Church. Bangkok, with its tiny minority Christian population, is emblematic of the missional challenge the worldwide church faces, and the Anglican Global South movement now has a two-decade history of taking responsible principled stands in the councils of the worldwide Anglican Communion. What better time, what better place, and what better group is there to network together for the sake of mission?

The emphasis from start to finish was on mission: landscape, challenges, and strategy. At first this may seem like a point of commonality with the Episcopal Church, where the language of mission is more and more prominent in our discourse, including at General Convention. Closer examination, however, reveals a substantial divide between how mission is understood by leaders in the Episcopal Church and leaders of the Global South. While in Bangkok, I may have heard both the Millennium Development Goals and the Five Marks of Mission mentioned once, obliquely, in passing. Rather, participants understood mission as virtually synonymous with evangelization: the proclamation of good news and the making of new disciples of Jesus. They are not complacent about justice. Disease control, violence, poverty, sustainable development, and even climate change found their way into the conversation at times, but always, I think it’s fair to say, in passing. They did not seem to confuse social justice with mission.

The rising tide of militant Islam emerged as perhaps the dominant area of concern. In places like Nigeria and Tanzania the two religious cultures clash with one another, and in places like Pakistan Christians are a barely tolerated minority. In our world, of course, the challenge is the rampant secularization of our society. They are different problems, but both invite strong measures of faith, vision, and discipline.

In the context of Minority World (the emerging term for not-the-Global South) Anglicanism, the emphasis on evangelization was so intense as to be jarring (whether that intensity is welcome or distasteful depends on one’s theological perspective). When considering relations with non-Christian faith communities, British and North American Anglicans are apt to think of dialogue, mutual respect, and joint effort in attacking social ills. Our Global South friends think of winning them for Christ. Many live on the frontier of the encounter between Christianity and Islam. Others live as tiny Christian minorities in a sea of Muslims, Hindus, or Buddhists. They certainly wish to maintain a nonviolent relationship with these communities, and the personal safety of Christians in these areas is a paramount concern. But they are unselfconsciously matter-of-fact about the ultimate objective: converting Muslims and Hindus and Buddhists into Christians.

Of course, this was precisely the attitude with which European and American missionaries flooded into Africa and Asia 200 years ago, and the churches of the Global South (Majority World) are the fruit of that evangelistic labor. Many Westerners/ Northerners, both among Anglicans and other oldline bodies, now see efforts toward conversion of non-Christians as an artifact of an earlier era, something for which to atone. Instead, they seek to express Christian mission in areas like education, public health, housing, economic development, and nation-building. Our Global South brothers and sisters are not opposed to these efforts. Indeed, they are quite enthusiastic about them. But there is an emerging perception that the communities that first evangelized them, and provided the forms and structures in which they continue to live their Christian faith, have lost their zeal for the gospel, and might be ripe for missionary efforts from the Global South configured toward the re-evangelization of the Global North. Without defending the “border crossing” engaged in by a handful of these provinces, and which Episcopalians have found so injurious, it may be that we need to understand such actions in this larger missional context.

The conference issued a communiqué on the last day, and many of the primates issued a separate communiqué. Both documents are worth reading, and give a good sense of the abiding concerns of Global South Anglicans. There is no obvious “game changer” hidden in these documents. But the Global South is permanently in the inner circle of the worldwide Anglican Communion, and I expect we will hear again from these visionary leaders.

The Rt. Rev. Daniel H. Martins, Bishop of Springfield, is a member of the Living Church Foundation’s board.

Finding Synergy in Bangkok

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